Proposed Effort to Slow Melting of Glacier in Antarctica

by Thomas Manaugh, PhD

kelloggI have written before about an “Energy Island” — a floating structure and integrated method of extracting large amounts of energy from the sun, from the wind, and from water waves and currents — and I believe it could be our solution to slow the melting of glaciers in the Antarctic.  

Here, it is proposed that an Energy Island could be used to provide massive amounts of energy for cooling seawater.  Cooling seawater in a key area off the western coast of Antarctica could slow the melting of glacial ice.

One effect of global warming is rapid melting of glaciers around the world. Melting of the glacial ice cap at the South Pole is of greatest concern because the ice that covers the Antarctic continent constitutes most of the glacial ice in the world.  Melting of ice on the continent of Antarctica would raise sea levels by a calculated 234 feet, flooding coastal areas and huge areas of low-lying lands around the world. (Calculation is based on numbers from NASA, referenced and quoted below).

Ground zero for concerns about Antarctica is now focused on an area in Antarctica’s western part.  That area contains Pine Island Glacier, a massive continental glacier that is slowly flowing into the Pine Island Bay on Antarctica’s western coast.  Undercut by warming seawaters, the glacier has been recently found to be melting four times faster than earlier estimated.  (See below reference and quote from research leader Professor Duncan Wingham, University College London.)

Could water off the western coast of Antarctica be cooled in a way that would slow melting of glacial ice in Antarctica?  If so, could such cooling give us a longer time to cope with and reduce global warming before catastrophic rises in sea levels would be otherwise predicted to occur?

It is proposed here that wind, wave, water currents, and solar energy could be used to power an effort to cool seawaters off the coast of a carefully targeted area of western Antarctica.  Cooling of waters in parts of Pine Island Bay could serve to slow the melting of glacial ice that is flowing into the bay.  In essence, the rapid melting of glacial ice would be slowed, the movement of the glacier into Pine Island Bay would be slowed, and more years (perhaps decades) would be granted to reduce global warming before catastrophic sea levels would otherwise inundate coastal areas around the world.

How hard would it be for an Energy Island to cool seawater that bathes the underside of glaciers that flow into Pine Island Bay?  Actually, the process is very simple — even less complicated than the task performed by your refrigerator if it automatically makes ice: the refrigerator controls a flow of water into the ice-making mechanism, cools the water by refrigeration, and discharges the resulting ice.

Similarly, Energy Island only needs to let fresh seawater flow for cooling into a refrigeration space — a space located within in the island’s structure.  The seawater is cooled to a temperature below 0 degrees Celsius (but not to a point of freezing).  It is then discharged from the bottom of the cooling space, and fresh water is allowed into the top of the cooling space to continue the process. 

If inlet and discharge processes were properly configured, it would be possible for the cooling process to operate continuously.

The discharged cooled seawater, now denser and heavier than the water around it, sinks toward the ocean floor.  The space between the glacier and the ocean floor is where the greatest glacier melting occurs.  The cooled seawater infiltrates that critical area and acts to slow the melting process.

Heat extracted from the seawater is dissipated from refrigeration condenser coils into the air.  That cooling process could be enhanced by also using water to cool the coils.  The result — warmed air that contains water vapor — would quickly cool in the frigid atmosphere of Antarctica, adding to snowfall.  Fresh snow adds to glaciers and helps protect glaciers from melting because snow is efficient at reflecting sunlight.

Dr. Thomas Manaugh is a frequent contributor to numerous blogs, including, Dolphin Blue, Inc. He is a leading expert in the ecosystem and climate and large advocate for anything helping lessen our carbon footprint. He can be contacted at manaugh@dolphinblue.com.

Reference and quote from NASA:

http://icesat.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ICESat_Brochure.pdf

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are an average of 2.4 km (7900 ft) thick, cover 10 percent of the Earth’s land area, and contain 77 percent of the Earth’s fresh water (33 million km3 or 8 million mi3). The Antarctic ice sheet has 10 times more ice than Greenland because of its greater area and average ice thickness. If their collective stored water volume were released into the ocean, global sea level would rise by about 80 m (260 ft).

Reference and quote from Professor Duncan Wingham:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6797162.ece

Satellite records show that if the melting of the Pine Island Glacier in west Antarctica goes on accelerating at current rates, the main section will have disappeared in 100 years, 500 years sooner than previously thought.

The research showed that the ice surface is dropping at a rate of 16m a year.The faster melting affects 5,400sq km of the glacier, containing enough water to raise world sea levels by 3cm, said Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, a member of the research team. The glacier’s melting could also expose stationary ice behind it to warm seawater, and if that ice were to melt, it could raise sea levels by another 25cm. The research, led by Professor Duncan Wingham at University College London and published in Geophysical Research Letters, is based on satellite observations of the glacier over 15 years. Professor Shepherd said: “Being able to assemble a continuous record of measurements over the past 15 years has provided us with the remarkable ability to identify both subtle and dramatic changes in ice that were previously hidden. “Because the Pine Island Glacier contains enough ice to almost double the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s best estimate of 21st-century sea level rise, the manner in which the glacier will respond to the accelerated thinning is a matter of great concern.”  Professor Shepherd said: “This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We’ve known that it’s been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this.”

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